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Desert film festival ends on a high note

fisahara | 06.05.2014 16:36

FiSahara film festival held in desert refugee camp comes to an end with musical performances by legendary South African and Western Saharan musicians and prizes awarded to Legna, Clint Eastwood and Dirty Wars

The Sahara International Film Festival (known as FiSahara) ended on a high note on Sunday night as legendary South African musician Jonas Gwangwa and world music star Mariem Hassan performed at the closing ceremony. The first prize – a white camel – was awarded to “Legna: Saharawi Poetry Speaks” by Juan Ignacio Robles, Bahia Mahmud Awah and Juan Carlos Gimeno. Second prize went to Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” and the third prize for the documentary "Dirty Wars" was collected by the film’s script writer, David Riker. Iconic anti-apartheid fighter Andrew Mlangeni, imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years, attended the ceremony and stressed the fact that, as in South Africa, culture is an important weapon in freedom struggle in Western Sahara.

The 11th edition of the FiSahara human rights film festival, held in a refugee camp deep in the desert, hosted over 300 international participants alongside 30,000 refugees displaced from their native Western Sahara for nearly four decades by an unlawful Moroccan occupation. This year’s programme included over 30 films from around the world including Oscar-nominated documentaries, animations, short films and blockbusters as well as several short films made by refugees themselves in the newly established refugee camp film school. Prizes were also awarded as part of a national competition of short films with first prize going to "Arifa", second prize going to "Tears of Hope" and third prize award to "My Malady is in my Cure".

Mariem Hassan – widely regarded as the ‘voice of Western Sahara’ - was greeted to a hero’s welcome as the capacity crowd cheered and ululated her performance which followed an hour-long set by Jonas Gwangwa and his nine-piece jazz ensemble from South Africa. The festival also included numerous cultural activities, film-making workshops led by Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Riker, Inma Chaon and Mitko Panov, children’s activities arranged by clowns and acrobrats, camel races, a dune party and a football match.

But amid the celebrations there was also a sense of defiance coming just days after news that the UN had yet again failed to include human rights monitoring when extending the mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara. Mr Mlangeni drew parallels with the Saharawi struggle for self-determination and South Africa’s own liberation struggle and shared the stage with Sidi Mohamed Daddach a human rights activist from occupied Western Sahara known as the “Saharawi Mandela” who spent 26 years in a prison. “As in South Africa, cultural activities are an important way of letting the world know about what is happening in Western Sahara” Mr Mlangeni said.

It is widely believed that the UN’s failure to introduced human rights monitoring is the result of pressure brought to bear within the Security Council by the Morocco’s traditional ally, France.

Actor Sergi Lopez, famous for his roles in Pan’s Labyrinth and Harry, Un Ami Qui Vous Veut Du Bien, said from FiSahara: “I am very proud to have worked in French cinema for over 20 years but I am deeply ashamed that the French government have once again refused to shift one centimetre on recognising the urgent need for human rights monitoring in occupied Western Sahara. It seems the French principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity” come second place to their economic and political interests.”

Maria Carrion, FiSahara’s executive director said “FiSahara is a miraculous and magical event and this edition has been a tremendous success. But it is ironic that on the same day that this human rights film festival began here the desert, the human rights of Saharawi’s have once again been ignored by the UN Security Council in New York. This news failed to dampen the spirit. Instead it increased people’s determination and demonstrated just how important events like FiSahara are in raising awareness of this forgotten conflict and the international community’s abject failure to hold Morocco to account for the ongoing human rights abuses occurring in Western Sahara.”

Jhadija Hamdi, Minister Culture for the Saharawi Democratic Republic said
“My people have spent decades struggling peacefully for their universal right of self-determination here in the camps and in occupied Western Sahara. FiSahara is a key event that empowers the Saharawi people through film providing a vital cultural platform for their voices – so long ignored – to be heard around the world.”

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  1. Second prize went to Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” — Barry Norman